Svetlana Gannushkina on the 24 December Rally

posted 30 Dec 2011, 10:35 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 30 Dec 2011, 10:40 ]
The rally, it is my impression, was not held in such joyful good spirits as that of 10 December. There was too much aggression and mutual antipathy. 
There was no meeting of the ways. Everyone agreed a new resolution be added to those from the rally at Bolotnaya Square: Not a single vote for Putin on 4 March 2012. But who should we vote for? It’s clear that for the near future there will be no alternative candidate that everyone can agree on.  


"I was at the rally wearing the badge of an observer. After getting the badge, we were taken from the city police department right to the stage. It was 13:30. People had already filled up the whole width of the fencing, separating the demonstrators from the press and observers. 

I decided to walk along this line and make sure no one was getting squashed. There had to be something for an observer to do. Everything was audible and visible. There were not many people on the stage, and from time to time one of the journalists came up to me to ask for a commentary. 

At one end of the fencing there were mostly elderly and young people. Some of the elderly had identical red whistles that they were blowing into and making a deafening noise whenever they did not like one of the speakers. These, one would assume, were supporting the communists. 

On the left (looking from the stage) quite nearby was the place where the nationalists were standing with their flags and placards. They became active whenever a nationalist orator was speaking or whenever someone took the stage whom they considered to be not Russian. Akunin came in for some of their disapproval, and so too did Shenderovich, Sobchak and Pozner (whose address to the rally was via a video recording). Their reactions became more lively as time went by. They were especially active in their responses to a speech by someone called Ermolaev who shouted hysterically “Long live Russia” and who made a very dubious gesture with his arm. He asked the demonstrators whether they wanted Yavlinsky, and it seemed he did not expect them to answer: YES!!!! 

Since he had assumed that the answer would be the opposite, he yelled at the top of his voice: perhaps, then, they want Navalny. The crowd also agreed with this. 

On the whole, the speakers had prepared what they were going to say and were not much bothered if the crowd did not react in the way they had expected. Ilya Ponomarev cut a lonely figure calling out his slogans while the crowd enthusiastically answered him: Resign your seat! 

The speech by Tor (Vladlen Kralin) was nastier than the one he made at Bolotnaya Square. He was actively supported by the neo-Nazis, who by that time had begun causing real trouble and had got through to the fencing on the left side. When it was the turn of an anti-fascist activist to speak, they got completely out of hand. 

There were whistles and boos in reaction to Tor’s calls to create a party for ethnic Russians, and to make a Russia for ethnic Russians. From the stage they were not so clearly audible as the noise, whistles and obscenities of the neo-Nazis. 

When I walked past I saw the growing tension in this part of the crowd. At about 16.30 a young woman called me by name. She was in tears. She said: “Please,” she said, “tell the organizers, there are fights going on here all the time. The Nazis are squashing us, insulting us! They should say what is happening from the stage!” 

I told the police that their help was needed in this place, but that they should not use force. It wasn’t possible to get through to Colonel Biriukov, the head of the police public affairs department, on the phone number we had been given. I went upto the stage, but it wasn’t possible to climb up. I asked that a message be passed to the organizers that it was time to call an end to the proceedings while there was as yet no fighting. 

When I went back to the fencing on the left of the stage, there was a row of police officers directly facing the nationalists, who were now behaving themselves. Of course, it was not through my efforts that the nationalists were tamed and the rally brought to an end. Others had also been alarmed – the feeling had sometimes grown, and at others had subsided. 

The rally, it is my impression, was not held in such joyful good spirits as that of 10 December. There was too much aggression and mutual antipathy. 

There was no meeting of the ways. Everyone agreed a new resolution be added to those from the rally at Bolotnaya Square: Not a single vote for Putin on 4 March 2012. But who should we vote for? It’s clear that for the near future there will be no alternative candidate that everyone can agree on." 

Svetlana Gannushkina

Svetlana Gannushkina lives in Moscow. A member of the board of the Memorial Human Rights Centre and of the Presidential Council on Civil Society and Human Rights, she heads the Civic Assistance Committee for refugees and IDPs and Memorial's Migration Rights Network.
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